Nursing students Marlaina Stickney, left, and Lea Yenawine speak with a lifelike mannequin patient in a simulation lab set up like a hospital room at the University of Southern Maine in Portland on Jan. 27. The mannequin patient can talk with the students through an instructor who oversees the simulation exercise. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Stepped-up efforts to recruit and train nurses in Maine have reduced the state’s projected nurse shortage in 2025 by more than half, according to an update of the original study.

According to the new report, commissioned by the Maine Nursing Action Coalition and the Maine Hospital Association, Maine is projected to be short 1,450 registered nurses in 2025, down from a projection of 3,200 released in 2017.

In order to mitigate the expected shortage, Maine needs to have an additional 1,000 new nurses entering the field each year, up from the current annual figure of roughly 875. Just a few years ago, only 700 nurses were entering the field in Maine each year, according to the report. 

While Maine’s nursing shortage stems from multiple factors, it mostly comes down to age, said Jeffrey Austin, vice president of government relations for the Maine Hospital Association.

Maine has the oldest population in the nation. Industries across the state are struggling to replace retiring workers with young ones, and the same goes for nursing. Health care consumption goes up as a population ages, so the demand for services is increasing while Maine’s health care providers are losing workers faster than they can replace them.

More career opportunities for women – both inside and outside the medical field – is another factor, Austin said. As women have branched out into other careers, the number of men moving into nursing has not kept pace, he said. The need to get more men into the field remains a challenge.

Instructor Keenan Hatch talks with students during a nursing class at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland in January. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer



Maine has been battling a nursing shortage for well over a decade, but the latest findings, based on data from 2020 and 2021, are promising.

Maine colleges’ combined efforts to increase the number of nursing graduates are primarily responsible for the workforce boost and improved projections, the report said.

“There are not a lot of (nurses) sitting on the sidelines who returned to the workforce or people doing other jobs in the service industry who returned to the workforce,” Austin said. “We’ve had a low unemployment rate for nurses for over five years, so it’s not that there’s a cushion to be tapped. It’s expansion of the workforce.”

The colleges’ efforts also managed to lower the average age of a Maine nurse from 49 to 47.

The number of nurses 35 or younger has increased by 28 percent – about 1,000 new nurses – since 2015, while the number of nurses 45 or older has decreased. That trend is expected to persist as baby boomer nurses continue to retire. 

“This effort to increase the number of RNs educated in Maine will pay off for years, as most of the new RNs are young and can be expected to be a part of the workforce for decades to come,” the report said. 


It remains unknown how the ongoing coronavirus pandemic might impact the number of nurses in Maine’s workforce.

Our assumption for the 2025 forecast is that the demand for healthcare will revert back to pre-pandemic levels; that could be very wrong,” wrote Patricia Cirillo, president of the Cypress Research Group and author of the report. 

As the crisis stage of the pandemic fades, Maine hospitals also could face retention issues, which would add to the nurse shortage.

RNs in Maine, as a group, worked at full tilt throughout the pandemic,” Cirillo wrote, with the majority of licensed RNs working full time.

That’s unusual, she said, and it would be reasonable to expect many nurses to reduce their hours or stop working altogether when the crisis is over. It’s still unclear whether nurses’ grueling experiences during the pandemic will make so many want to leave the profession that it would show up in workforce data, she added.

Southern Maine Community College nursing students Nicole Goggin and Anthony Abdallah treat a mannequin in January as they practice proper technique in the event of a seizure. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer



But there is hope for relief on the horizon.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, seeks to expand registered nursing programs statewide to help relieve the nursing shortage. The bill would provide community colleges across Maine with an additional $2.5 million in 2022 and 2023, allowing the system to hire 33 full-time and 20 part-time nursing faculty, along with additional laboratory equipment, simulation mannequins, computers, monitors, hospital beds and other supplies. 

One of the main challenges for nursing programs statewide has been a shortage of teaching staff rather than an absence of students.

“There’s a lot of demand for graduates at nursing homes and hospitals and a lot of young students who are looking at nursing,” Austin said.

But faculty are hard to come by. Usually, these teachers are nurses, but in order to fill the position they need graduate degrees, and moving into academia typically means a pay cut.

Efforts are underway to hire more faculty by creating better financial incentives, raising the pay when possible and paying for those graduate-level credits, Austin said.


“There’s a supply of willing students and a demand from employers, it’s just getting them through that bottleneck,” he said.

Student interest in nursing hasn’t shown signs of waning, despite the pandemic.

Some Maine nursing programs are seeing record numbers of students applying and enrolling despite the pandemic. Programs are full, and in some cases there are waiting lists.

With the bill’s added funding, Maine’s community college system would be able to double the number of registered nurse graduates. If the measure is approved, the community college system could boost nursing student enrollment as early as this summer.

While Maine’s hospital industry groups will continue to focus on nursing schools, they also need to address issues such as nurses’ pay and workplace violence to keep nurses in their current jobs, Austin said.

“We can’t only focus on the creation of new young nurses,” he said. “We need to keep an eye on our existing workforce to make it as rewarding a career as it can be.”

Comments are no longer available on this story